Chapter One

I.

A woman stood in the mist of a large crowd and glanced around for any way out of the middle of the circle. She answered the crowd's questions mechanically.

"Yes, we just arrived this morning."

"The whole town has been very welcoming towards us. I thank you all with my whole heart," Veronica's lips stretched to a smile that was too big for her small face, and her hand tightly held her five year old son's hand. The little boy hid behind his mother's legs and buried his head into her skirt. It seemed that he did not like his newfound popularity either.

"Yes he's quite shy, but he opens up easily."

"No, I haven't heard about Midwinter Festival, but I'm sure it's very nice."

"I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"That is a rumor."

"I'm not a prostitute" Veronica mentally sighed; she continued to give the appropriate answers to everyone's questions, even the crazy questions.

Apparently the small town had not had a new resident for ten years, and was eager to learn about the newcomer. She had heard about the little shipping town from her mother years ago and after the huge commotion occurred in their old home, Veronica thought it best to move. Nervously she tucked a brown strand of hair behind her ear as people started saying their good byes. "Finally," she thought. "I thought they were going to stay forever." Politely she waved at everyone, thankful that the questions had ended.

Word of the new family's arrival had come several days before she had arrived, so naturally, everyone had concocted their own version of why she had moved to the small town. They also included a tragic past that led her to run away from her old life. Some even going as far as saying that her son had been an unexpected child, and when the father had found out that she was with child he became enraged and began to beat her. And now she had been going to town to town as a prostitute stealing the money of her gentlemen of the night. She finally had stolen enough money to settle down in their humble village.

Of course none of this was true. As soon as the citizens of Cazaeria found out that their eccentric stories had just been their imaginations they quickly retreated back into their homes to find the next thing that would entertain them. Although one family waited until everyone had left to approach the newcomers. A couple stood close to each other, hand in hand.

The man was tall; Veronica swore he was over 6 feet, with a wiry frame. His sandy hair stuck to his face and his face red from the blistering sun that now hung right above their heads. Perspiration trickled down his face and his neck. He introduced himself as Dominic. He was the best carpenter in town, from what Veronica had heard from the others, and built the town's boats which they used for shipping. Trading was essential in Cazaeria since mountains cut most of the town off from the rest of the land. There were only two clearings in the mountains both had gates built to close them off if the town desired. One of the openings faced the sea and its gates had not been closed since the Great War.

The sea of Possidia was used as the town's major port, and exported nearly 150,000 goods everyday. This was the town's major income source. On the other side of the town the second gate led out into the woods of Alte Bäume, and if you kept going west you would eventually reach the next town. Though not many knew what lay beyond that town since most of Cazaeria's residents had lived in the small town since birth and usually stayed there until they grew too old to relocate.

The woman to the man's left introduced herself as Mary. She had brown hair that was neatly tied up and wore a blue dress that reached to mid-calf. Her blue eyes glistened with kindness and love. Her smile could have been seen from miles away, as some of the villagers claimed. The woman also had her own fable created by the villagers.

The story went on to say that she had been out on the shores of the sea because of a restless night. She had thought that the cool night's air would cure her restlessness. Unfortunately the night had been so foggy that you could not see your own hand in front of your face. A ship coming back from a great expedition had gotten lost in the thick fog. Supposedly the captain had felt the woman's warming presence and was led to shore by Mary's smile, which had broken through the dense fog. The ship was apparently bringing back treasures from a new found land to its country and was so thankful of Mary's assistance that they left several bags of gold for her. Mary denied the validity of the story, but she couldn't stop the rumors and the story added to her saintly figure.

The third member of this family appeared from behind the couple, her eyebrows raised in surprise as she stared down the two new villagers. She walked up to Veronica and her son. Her surprised expression quickly changed into a devious one. Her auburn hair looked as if her head was on fire as it fell wildly around her face. Her smile wasn't like her mother's; it was a toothless grin that gave off a childish aura. Her blue eyes focused on the little boy that hid behind Veronica's back. She was the first to speak.

"'Ey! I'm Aly! I'm fwo-no wait mommy said I'm five now!" Aly grinned and pointed to her parents. "Dats me mum right there! An-and dats me papa!" Aly turned back to Veronica staring up with her with innocent eyes. "'an I ask you somethin?" Veronica nodded, amused by the little girl's accent and baby talk. No, this little girl couldn't be devious as she first thought. This little one was like a sweet angel.

"Are you the town's new prostitute?"

II.

Later on that day, Veronica pushed her son forward towards a large crowd of people. He had a tight grip on her blouse and was not willing to let go. The amount of people frightened him. He pressed his face into his mother's skirt and whimpered. Veronica knelt down to her son's eye level and said in a strict, motherly tone.

"Oh Andrew, please try to go out and have fun. Meet some of the other children." Andrew eyes began to water and his voice trembled as he spoke.

"Bu-but what if they are mean like the other k-kids? Wh-what if they call me names a-again?" Veronica stiffened and her voice became harsh.

"They only called you names because you always hid behind me, like a cowardly dog."

"That's not why!" Andrew whined in protest. Veronica shook him slightly.

"Yes it is! Listen to your mother, son!" Her voice then softened. "Just go out, and have a good time. Stick with Aly for tonight. She'll introduce you to some of the children." Andrew wiped his eyes with his sleeves and nodded. Veronica looked back to the crowd of people who clapped along with the music. People cheered on the dancers in the middle who seemed to be doing a folk-dance. The sun dipped below the mountains painting the sky an orange-pink color. The town had spread out on an empty field, which had a light covering of white snow and was now filled with festive decorations.

Today was the start of Midwinter's. It was a week long festival in which the whole town would gather in this field every night for four nights and celebrate. There was singing and dancing in the middle of the field. Off to the sides were various foods and wines from around the country. To the left side, a group of kids were playing tag. Everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives.

"'Ello! So your mum called you a doggie?" Aly said, seeming to pop out of nowhere. Andrew jumped back a little, surprised at the girl appearing so suddenly.

"No! I'm not!" Aly grinned then grabbed his hand.

" 'On't worry! I won't tell nobody, not even momma! Miss Lady can I take 'ndrew to go pway?" Aly asked grinning up at Veronica. "Today the ladies dance the Dance of ….w-e—dgen!" Veronica looked at her questionably.

"Do you mean legend?"

"Yeah, that's what I said! Bye Miss Lady!" Before Veronica could respond, her son and Aly had disappeared into the crowd leaving Veronica all alone. Thankfully she spotted Dominic and Mary by the table of food and made her way over to them.

Aly ruffled Andrew's brown hair so that it stood up in every direction. She giggled then took his head in her hands and stared into his eyes. "Your eyes are weird," she bluntly stated.

"Are not!"

"I ain't seen nobody with grey eyes before."

"You're a hick, what do you know!"

"Why are you so angry? Is it cause you're a dog?" Aly released his face and put her hands on her hips.

"I'm not a dog!" Andrew snapped.

"Oh! Your necklace is pretty!" Aly said clasping the strange object in her hand.

"Don't touch that!" Andrew swatted her hands away. "I can't ever take this off!"

"Why not?"

"Because my daddy gave it to me before we went away."

"Oh," Aly's grin faded. A bang filled the night air followed by a flash of colored light. Fireworks lit the night air signaling that the traditional dance was about to begin. Aly took Andrew's hands and said clearly without an accent.

"I don't care if you're a doggie or not. I want to be your friend, Andrew. Relax, it's a party. If you still don't want to be my friend after tonight I promise I'll leave you alone, but for tonight will you be my friend?" Andrew's eyes met hers. A smile formed on his face.

"What happened to your accent?"

Aly's grin returned and she pulled him back into the crowd.